Officials: UNHRC vote may harm Moscow parley

Goldstone vote could put

Lavrov press UN 248.88 ap (photo credit: AP [file])
Lavrov press UN 248.88 ap
(photo credit: AP [file])
Russia's long-desired and oft-delayed Moscow conference on the Middle East may be in jeopardy as a result of Friday's endorsement by the UN Human Rights Council of the Goldstone Commission report accusing Israel of war crimes, government officials said on Sunday. Russia, along with India and China, all voted against Israel at Friday's meeting that sent the report to the UN General Assembly. One official said the Moscow conference may be in peril now, not because Israel is trying to punish Russia, but rather because the diplomatic process - as Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu warned - would be harmed as a result of the Palestinian Authority's pushing the Goldstone Report forward. "This is not a threat, just a statement of fact," the official said. Following its vote on Friday, Moscow delivered a letter directly from Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov saying that while it voted for the resolution, Russia opposed referring the issue to the Security Council, from where it could theoretically be sent to the International Criminal Court. Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon, when asked on Sunday about the Moscow conference idea, told The Jerusalem Post that the Russian vote "does not help promote it." Russia has been trying for nearly two years to put together a Middle East conference as a follow up to the November 2007 Annapolis conference, but so far to no avail. Israel had up to now not objected, but just wanted to ensure that the timing was right and that the meeting would be more than just a photo opportunity. The Middle East Quartet, made up of the US, Russia, the EU and the UN, reaffirmed at its meeting last month its call for a conference in Moscow. A spokesman for Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, meanwhile, would not comment when asked whether Lieberman would protest the Russia or Indian votes in a matter similar to the way he expressed displeasure on Saturday night for the Chinese vote, by not attending an event put on by the Chinese Embassy to mark 60 years of Communist rule. The spokesman would not verify that Lieberman boycotted the event, only confirming that Lieberman had not shown up, and that he was indeed angry at Beijing's vote. Ayalon, speaking of the Chinese and Russian votes, said: "This is very disappointing. We are going to check this through diplomatic channels with these countries. Russia and China are very serious countries which we respect and appreciate. We do not understand why they would vote against their own interests." Israel had in recent days expressed to the Russians the belief that if Israel could be taken to task for defending itself against terrorists, the same could happen to Russia, which faces its own terrorist threats. A number of ministers voiced anger and frustration before Sunday's cabinet meeting both at the vote and at the Palestinian Authority for pushing the Goldstone Report forward. Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz told reporters that Friday's vote was part of an effort, "to a certain degree, anti-Semitic, to say that what is permitted for the US in Afghanistan, for Russia in Chechnya, and also for Turkey in northern Iraq is forbidden for Israel in defending itself from Gaza. "We will not cooperate with this. Jews will not again be led like lambs to slaughter." Steinitz said the Jewish state had the "right and obligation to defend its citizens, no less than the US, Russia or Turkey." He also said that if the PA continued to attack Israel in various international forums, then Israel should think twice about continue calling at these same forums for donors to continue supporting the PA. "We cannot continue to put forward the other cheek," he said. Interior Minister Eli Yishai went even further, saying "it is impossible to continue negotiations, when on one side they [the PA] are talking, and on the other hand they are denying our right to defend ourselves." In contrast, Defense Minister Ehud Barak released a statement on Sunday night saying that Israel was a strong, sovereign, developed state whose strengths far outweighed its weaknesses, and which would continue to pursue negotiations with the Palestinians. "We have a supreme responsibility to work on the basis of our strength to achieve peace," he said. "And first of all, to join hands with the American administration, to put together an agreement to restart negotiations as soon as possible, even if the conditions are not perfect and we are asked to make difficult decisions." Senior officials in the Foreign Ministry, meanwhile, took a very "cup is half full" attitude when weighing the results of Friday's vote, saying it was significant and important that with the exception of Russia, not one European country voted for the resolution. Instead, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands, Slovakia and Ukraine joined the US in supporting Israel, while Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Norway and Slovenia abstained, and Britain and France did not vote. Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said there was a moral victory in that the European, democratic countries didn't vote for the motion, and that it passed on the "strength of such beacons of human rights as Djibouti, Saudi Arabia and Cuba." Ministry officials noted that in the "twisted logic" inside the UN, an abstention is considered to be a vote for Israel, while an actual vote for Israel is usually the domain of only the US, the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, and - recently - Canada. "This vote broke traditional patterns," one official said, even noting positively that Britain and France were present, but did not vote - a sign, he said, that they did not view the whole exercise as a fair one. Nevertheless, Ayalon termed the French and British approach as "puzzling." "I think it would have been better for them to make a clear statement," he said. Regarding the Chinese, Indian and Russian votes, one official said that these countries generally voted against Israel in international forums, explaining to Israel privately afterward that this was the necessary "lip service" they must pay to the Arab bloc in return for having ties and strong military and diplomatic relations with Israel. Regarding the negative votes of all Latin American countries on the Human Rights Council - with the exception of Mexico and Uruguay - one official said that this reflected clearly and accurately the left-wing orientation of South and Central America. Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Cuba and Nicaragua all voted against Israel. Ayalon, meanwhile, said that Israel was in a "very uphill battle," and "will fight tooth and nail to ensure that all decent countries stay together. Although though they [Arab countries and their supporters] have the numbers, they certainly do not have the plurality of all decent countries."